UCAS announced in 2018 that they would no longer be asking all applicants to declare unspent criminal convictions. This meant universities needed to review their approach and decide if, when and how to collect this information.

For regulated courses – for example in medicine, education or social work – applicants will still be asked to declare criminal records on the UCAS application. Students who are admitted will need to apply for an enhanced DBS check, either before enrolment or at a later stage.

Following this change, Unlock wanted to work with universities to encourage a fair approach to students with convictions.

Unlocking students with criminal records – phase 2

In October 2019 Unlock completed the first part of our work to improve access to higher education for students with criminal records. Read more below.

We’re now building on that work, supported by the Bruno Schroder Trust. phase 2 of the project will include:

  • Maintaining a database of all universities’ admissions policies to help applicants with criminal records make informed decisions
  • Working with the Office for Students and HEPI to gain recognition for students with criminal records as a widening participation group
  • Collaborating with universities to include students with criminal records in their access and participation plans
  • Supporting more universities to offer fair admissions and to build support for students with criminal records on their journey through university

What we did in phase 1

Fair admissions toolkit

We developed a Fair Admissions Toolkit for higher education institutions

Fair chance pledge

Unlock launched the fair chance pledge. Institutions signed up to the pledge are demonstrating their commitment to offering a fair chance to students with a criminal record.

Some of the institutions signed up to the pledge

Find out which institutions are signed up, and how to sign up here.

What are universities doing?

As well as the approaches of Southampton and Cardiff, here are some other approaches now being taken by universities:

University of Westminster – “We believe an unspent criminal conviction should not automatically prevent an individual from studying at the University of Westminster. Disclosing a criminal conviction is not a requirement of an application to study at the University and applicants will only ever be assessed on their academic suitability.” Read more

Bloomsbury Institute London – “We will not deny an applicant the opportunity to better their life through education on the grounds that the applicant has a criminal conviction. Therefore, in the interest of social justice and in order not to deter an applicant with a criminal conviction from making an application, we do not require the disclosure of criminal convictions.” Read more

University of Essex – Disclosing an unspent criminal conviction is not a standard requirement of an application for membership to the University. When considering the membership of a student to the University a criminal record will only be taken into account during the admissions process where the course is subject to a mandatory DBS check. There are other circumstances in which a criminal record may be relevant to membership of the University and these are set out in this policy.” Read more

Other things we’ve done

We developed principles of fair admissions and supported UCAS to produce good practice resources for universities, including the short film below.


Latest news

22nd October 2019 – Ten UK universities lead the way by signing the ‘Fair Chance for Students with Convictions’ pledge

22nd October 2019 – Blog – How can people with criminal records access higher education?

7th May 2019 Bloomsbury Institute becomes first higher education institute to Ban the Box for staff

10th April 2019University admissions: what’s changed?

7th June 2018 – New paper published: University admissions and criminal records – Lessons learned and next steps

29th May 2018 – Ucas drops need for university applicants to declare convictions

You can read older news posts here and at the bottom of this page


Useful links

  1. Our policy page on university admissions brings together a range of useful publications. 
  2. We have practical guidance for university admissions professionals
  3. We have details on the workshops we can run for institutions
  4. If you’d like to keep up to date with this area, sign up to our mailing list for universities.


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